A new IIHS study has found that the top tether on child seats, a strap meant to prevent a child restraint from falling forward, is being ignored by many parents. These tethers are part of a child restraint system called LATCH, or Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children. The reason behind the negligence is that many parents don’t realize it exists or know how to use it.
Many parents are more familiar with and use the lower straps and anchors, and the top tethers are designed to be used with all forward-facing restraints. "Top tethers help prevent head and neck injuries for children in forward-facing restraints, but many parents don't realize they are supposed to use them. This is a persistent problem. The child passenger safety community could help with a focused effort to educate consumers about top tethers and why they are important," said Anne McCartt, IIHS senior vice president for research in a recent interview.
Research for this survey was conducted in 50 suburban areas at shopping centers, recreation facilities, child-care centers, car-seat checkpoints, and healthcare facilities. Data was gathered from 479 vehicles driven by a parent or caregiver. Safety was the most important factor in driver decisions to use the tethers: 42 percent said it was because the straps made the restraint more secure, where 35 percent said it reduced the forward movement of the top of the seat, and 27 percent said it gave a tighter installation.
The survey found that using the LATCH lower anchors increased the likelihood that drivers would use the top tether as well, with child restraints installed with lower anchors more likely to be tethered as child restraints secured with safety belts. "Many parents haven't gotten the message that the top tether should be used with all forward-facing child restraints, whether they are installed with lower anchors or safety belts," commented McCartt.
The survey also discovered that 31 percent of all tethers used were installed the wrong way, with the most common error involving a loose or twisted strap. While parents used the top tethers 48 percent of the time, and 54 percent of those installations were wrong. Many of the tether group reported a difficulty when using them. Parents should consult the owner's manual for the child restraint to see how to route and attach the tethers properly.